Even under normal circumstances, child welfare systems can be a fraught environment for LGBTQ+ youth. Like all young people in these systems, they must cope with the abuse and neglect they may have suffered at the hands of their caregivers. But LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of additional harms, including discrimination, institutionalization, and even abuse within the system. They are more likely to age out without ever achieving permanency. LGBTQ+ young people in out-of-home care are disproportionately people of color and are therefore exposed to compounding and unique inequities associated with their intersectional identities. LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely to experience homelessness, live in poverty, and suffer from chronic illness—already pervasive issues among children who spend time in child welfare systems. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates these risks. It wreaks havoc on the fragile dynamics that protect these youth, and will undoubtedly continue to have a significant impact on them and child welfare systems for years to come.
This report was developed with extensive input from LGBTQ+ young people currently or formerly in foster care, LGBTQ+ young people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness, and direct service workers. We identify how the pandemic is amplifying some of the risks for LGBTQ+ youth in child welfare systems and propose practices to mitigate them. Now, more than ever, LGBTQ+ young people must be protected.